Eight Steps to Lead Change in Your Church

  • 14 November 2016
  • Randy Wollf

Geese flyingIn their book The Heart of Change, John Kotter and Dan Cohen outline eight steps for leading change within an organization. I have adapted their framework for leading change within the church which I will outline in this blog (an extended version of this content is available through video on MinistryLift's YouTube channel). This entire process is one that must be bathed in prayer as we seek to discern and surrender ourselves to God’s priorities.

1. Increase a Sense of Urgency

People are unlikely to engage in significant change initiatives unless they feel an urgency to do so. Crises can help people realize that change is necessary, but this isn’t the only way to ignite a sense of urgency. You can also do this by communicating a compelling vision and sharing stories that motivate people to take action.

2. Build a Guiding Team

The purpose of this step is to pull together a group of people who have enough capacity and credibility within the congregation to implement the necessary change. One of the key roles of this team is to facilitate widespread participation in the change discussions. The extent to which people engage meaningfully in the process will contribute to their long-term commitment to the plan (and their willingness to make sacrifices to implement it).

3. Get the Right Vision

Discerning the right vision takes time. It’s important to involve as many people as possible in developing a robust vision that captures the heart of the people. As people get their fingerprints on the emerging vision, they will be much more likely to own it and act on it. Instead of pushing for consensus right away, it is helpful to build diversity first by providing venues (e.g. small group discussions or surveys) where people can contribute their diverse ideas. Then, look for themes and important paradigm-challenging ideas as part of the process of building consensus around a shared vision. I explain how to clarify your mission, articulate core values, discern vision, and identify strategic priorities in a previous blog called Priorities for Your Ministry.  

4. Communicate for Buy-In

In order to help people own the vision, we need to communicate the vision simply and consistently. It also needs to be stated in multiple ways and embodied in the lives of the leaders.

5. Empower Broad-Based Action

Most major change initiatives fail within 3-5 years. It is imperative that we employ a mechanism for insuring that organizational members stay the course over the long-term. I have found that The Four Disciplines of Execution described in the book by the same title provide such a mechanism. The four disciplines are:

  1. Determine your wildly important goal(s)
  2. Act on the lead measures
  3. Keep a compelling scoreboard
  4. Create a cadence of accountability.

I explain each of these disciplines in a past blog called Making Change Stick (you can also watch an excellent video summary here by one of the book’s authors).

6. Create Short-Term Wins

We can build momentum when we generate noticeable (and authentic) successes that spur on supporters and draw in late adopters (and even opponents!).

7. Don’t Let Up

During this stage, we want to consolidate gains while continuing to explore and execute ideas that will move the organization forward even more.

8. Make it Stick

Anchoring new approaches in the organization’s culture requires open communication and a fierce determination to align actions with the organizational vision and the wildly important goals.

Obviously, leading change within the church is not always as linear and straightforward as Kotter and Cohen’s model suggests. Yet, their framework does provide a helpful guide as we seek to discern and implement God’s vision.

Randy Wollf is the Director of MinistryLift and the Assistant Professor of Practical Theology and Leadership Studies at MB Seminary. This article is a summary of a presentation he gave called Moving from Maintenance to Visionary Thinking and Strategic Implementation that was part of MinistryLift's Building Healthy Boards series and this content is also available on YouTube